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Open Access Debate

Revision of visual impairment definitions in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases

Lalit Dandona* and Rakhi Dandona

Author Affiliations

Health Studies Area, Centre for Human Development, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, India

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BMC Medicine 2006, 4:7  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-4-7

Published: 16 March 2006

Abstract

Background

The existing definitions of visual impairment in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases are based on recommendations made over 30 years ago. New data and knowledge related to visual impairment that have accumulated over this period suggest that these definitions need to be revised.

Discussion

Three major issues need to be addressed in the revision of these definitions. First, the existing definitions are based on best-corrected visual acuity, which exclude uncorrected refractive error as a cause of visual impairment, leading to substantial underestimation of the total visual impairment burden by about 38%. Second, the cut-off level of visual impairment to define blindness in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases is visual acuity less than 3/60 in the better eye, but with increasing human development the visual acuity requirements are also increasing, suggesting that a level less than 6/60 be used to define blindness. Third, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases uses the term 'low vision' for visual impairment level less than blindness, which causes confusion with the common use of this term for uncorrectable vision requiring aids or rehabilitation, suggesting that alternative terms such as moderate and mild visual impairment would be more appropriate for visual impairment less severe than blindness. We propose a revision of the definitions of visual impairment in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases that addresses these three issues. According to these revised definitions, the number of blind persons in the world defined as presenting visual acuity less than 6/60 in the better eye would be about 57 million as compared with the World Health Organization estimate of 37 million using the existing International Statistical Classification of Diseases definition of best-corrected visual acuity less than 3/60 in the better eye, and the number of persons in the world with moderate visual impairment defined as presenting visual acuity less than 6/18 to 6/60 in the better eye would be about 202 million as compared with the World Health Organization estimate of 124 million persons with low vision defined as best-corrected visual acuity less than 6/18 to 3/60 in the better eye.

Conclusion

Our suggested revision of the visual impairment definitions in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases takes into account advances in the understanding of visual impairment. This revised classification seems more appropriate for estimating and tracking visual impairment in the countries and regions of the world than the existing classification in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases.